Free online training for Hyper-V

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Whilst on the subject of Microsoft certification… I noticed on Gregg Robertson’s blog that Microsoft Learning are offering free online training for Hyper-V and System Centre Virtual Machine Manager (SCVMM) 2008 (access code 9350-Y2W6-3676). The free training courses represent 10 hours of online study (Collection 6319: Configuring Hyper-V in Windows Server 2008 – normal price £105.16) and cover:

  • Course 6320: Introducing the Hyper-V technology.
  • Course 6321: Configuring a virtual environment.
  • Course 6322: Deploying systems in a virtual environment.
  • Course 6323: Optimising a virtual environment.
  • Course 6324: Managing a virtual environment by using SCVMM.

Gregg also notes that Microsoft are offering a discount on exam 70-652 (promotion code USHYPERV).

Passed Microsoft Certified Technology Specialist exam 70-649

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Phew! Another one down – earlier today I passed the Microsoft exam for upgrading from Windows Server 2003 MCSE to Windows Server 2008 Technology Specialist (70-649), which takes me one step closer to updating my Microsoft certification from MCSE (on Windows NT 4.0, 2000 and Server 2003) to MCITP: Enterprise Administrator. This week’s blog post drought may have been welcome relief for some but it was largely caused by many early starts and late nights cramming my head full of Windows Server 2008 information.

As usual, I’m not publishing any exam details (test details are under NDA, yada, yada) but it’s public knowledge that this is an amalgamation of exams 70-640, 70-642 and 70-643 and it seems that it was my applications infrastructure score that dragged me down (I did OK on the AD portion and scored quite well on configuring network infrastructure)… not bad for someone who doesn’t get much of an opportunity to play with technology at work any more! I will say that I put way too much effort into my revision though… I’ll write a follow up post on the online training that I used from Microsoft Learning.

I have one more exam planned for this year (I plan to take 70-647 on Christmas Eve) – and that will complete the transistion from MCSE 2003 to the equivalent 2008 qualification (I’ve already passed 70-624).

Incidentally, I couldn’t get in to the test centres that I usually use (QA-IQ in Milton Keynes or Global Knowledge in Coventry) so I went to Computer Associated Decisions in High Wycombe. If anyone is thinking of taking a Prometric test there then I’d urge them to reconsider as it’s absolutely the worst testing experience I’ve every had. The test centre is one half of a retail unit on a housing estate and the cheap wood laminate flooring and thin plasterboard walls mean that sound is echoed and amplified around the unit so you can hear the people in the shop next door (at one point someone was in the shop with a small child and it was like having my 4 year old in the room with me whilst trying to think…) as well as the office behind (where the people working seem to think nothing of shouting – even when asked to pipe down by the receptionist). Unfortunately, that’s where I have to go back to on the 24th…

Coalface Tech: Episode 1 (Microsoft PDC 2008)

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Coalface Tech podcast graphic
Last month, James Bannan and I released a pilot episode of a new podcast called Coalface Tech – the idea being that IT Pros should have a slightly different take on IT industry developments to the professional journalists that cover this.

We’ve taken on board the feedback that we received and, whilst it’s still a bit rough around the edges, Episode 1 is now online at the APC Pro magazine website.

In this episode, we look at some of the major announcements from Microsoft’s 2008 Professional Developers’ Conference – Windows Azure and Windows 7 – as well as some interesting things to come out of Microsoft Research.

PDC may seem like old news now, but our aim is not to report the news – like this blog the intention is that we provide a commentary from the perspective of those who actually implement the technology.

If you like what you hear, then you might like to consider subscribing – there are two podcast feeds available (MP3 and AAC) – if you use iTunes then I recommend the AAC version as that’s the enhanced podcast with chapter markings and context sensitive links but MP3 should work for just about everyone. We’ve also submitted the AAC feed to the iTunes store (it’s still under consideration but will hopefully be in the index soon).

Coalface Tech (MP3 podcast) Coalface Tech (MP3 podcast).
Coalface Tech (AAC enhanced podcast) Coalface Tech (AAC enhanced podcast).

If you don’t like it, please tell us why. We’re still learning how to do this podcasting stuff and there’s a lot to take on board but we really would like feedback – including suggested topics for discussion.

Going forward, James and I hope to get an episode out every month. They are time-consuming to produce though, so please bear with us if the schedule is not as regular as we’d like.

Finally, here are the show notes for episode 1:

  • 00’00” Introduction (agenda) and summary of feedback from the pilot episode (excuse the ums and ers, we do get more confident after a few minutes; Mark should remember he’s not an Aussie; hopefully we’ve improved the production a little in this episode).
  • 02’23” Windows 7: James’ first view of Microsoft’s forthcoming OS release (he’s also written about Windows 7 for IT Pros); no massive changes between Vista and 7 – slicker and some new features but not a major release; touchscreen – a real possibility or just a niche technology?; Conchango/Tesco prototype WPF front end for online groceries; boot from VHD; Application compatibility is just as key to a Windows 7 deployment as it is to Vista – even the 6.1 version number is to maintain application compatibility!
  • 15’53” Slight diversion to discuss Mark’s plans for Windows 7 on Lenovo IdeaPad S10 netbook; and it turns out that James has been running Vista Enterprise SP1 on an Acer Aspire One; if you’re using an SSD drive then consider the NTFS partition alignment.
  • 19’25” Windows Azure: James interviewed Greg Stone (Microsoft Australia CTO); Azyure or Azuuure? (or Red Dog!); a hosted services platform to provide a flexible infrastructure, leveraging from existing development tools; watch out for spiraling bandwidth costs; not buying infrastructure looks attractive – as does rapid provisioning; a lot of the details are still to come (support, costs, etc.); usage-based billing may represent a challenge for some organisations; KPI-based model; this model will not suit everyone but Software plus Services is a little more realistic that software as a service; Microsoft Online Services are already competing with partners – what’s the impact on our jobs if the infrastructure goes into the cloud; Microsoft has proved that it does have a strategy for cloud computing.
  • 33’07” Microsoft Research: Surface becomes SecondLight; you can build a primative surface table with a cardboard box, a sheet of paper, a sheet of perspex and a webcam; heat sensors used to control building environmental systems; Microsoft Research is more interested in academic computer science than in new products.
  • 41’06” We want your feedback!
  • 41’37” Closedown: how to find James and Mark; a thank you to our sponsors – Australian Personal Computer, Internode and Sun Microsystems.
  • 42’36” End

My MacBook is broken (again)

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A few weeks after my Apple MacBook arrived, it had to go for repairs after the plastic top cover in front of the keyboard split.  To be fair to Apple, they repaired it under warranty (as they should – this is clearly a design fault – although they also scratched the top case and had to replace that too!).  Today, just 8 months later, I’ve noticed that it’s split again.  This is obviously a weak spot where my palm rests as I’m typing (after all, that is what the palm rest is for) but I’m not happy.  Looks like the Mac will be off to the Apple Store for repairs again soon but I really don’t want to be without my primary multimedia machine over the Christmas holidays.

Last week I wrote about how Steve Jobs said that Apple couldn’t produce a $500 computer that’s not a piece of junk.  It seems to me that Apple doesn’t need the diversion of a small form factor PC (the context of Jobs’ comment) – they need to get the build quality on their normal (overpriced) models right first of all!

Are web services really the right answer for small business IT?

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A few months ago I moved my home/small business IT to Google Apps. After a few years of running my own servers, it was a big step for me to trust someone else to run it for me but it seems to be working OK… up to a point.

You see, Google may be managing my e-mail, calendar, etc. but they are not backing it up. After all, it’s not very often that you get something for nothing in this world and that’s what I’m paying Google – nothing. So, I needed to find a way to back up my GMail (I have the information on how to do this – I just haven’t finished putting the process in place). Then there’s the migration of my previous Exchange Server data to Google. It’s possible, but painfully slow, using a client application to transfer messages with frequent timeouts (with 10 years’ worth of e-mail to transfer, I’ve given up for the time being – and that’s just for one user).

Software as a service is all very well, backed up with proper service level agreements – but using anything less than that in a business context is really a bit risky.

After all, what happens when that service that you’re paying absolute nothing for stops working?

But it’s really reliable – isn’t it? Yes, undoubtably, Google Apps and competing platforms are reliable but not entirely infallible. And when they fail, you can bet your bottom dollar that it won’t be a good time for you.

Yesterday I was trying to send e-mail from Google Apps Mail (GMail) and I got an HTTP error 500 (server generated error). Today I’ve been having a few problems too – and I’ve had to turn off Calendar and Contacts syncing with my iPhone (where iTunes syncs with Google) because it was hanging… so it seems that all is not well in the part of the cloud where my data sits.

Google Mail server unavailable error

But it’s not exclusively a Google problem. FolderShare is too old - time to upgradeSeeing what Microsoft is doing around Windows Live wave three had made me start to think that maybe I backed the wrong horse until the early hours of this morning, when I sat down at my Mac to be told that the version of Windows Live FolderShare I was using no longer worked and that I should upgrade to Windows Live Sync (just like that, without any warning, although it does seem that some users received an e-mail in advance). Even though I’m really busy at the moment, trying to juggle work (where it’s appraisal season and I need to make sure I hit all of my management’s ill-thought-out-and-not-very-SMART objectives), exam study (MCSE 2003 to MCITP Enterprise Administrator 2008 upgrade), blogging (not much of that happening right now), podcasting (ditto), Christmas preparations, spending some time with my family, etc., etc., I did update to Windows Live Sync… Windows Live Sync is too old too...only to find that the current Mac client also claims to be too old and that I should download a new version from… the place where I downloaded this version from – arghh… (at least it seems I’m not alone).

And so what exactly is my point? Well, my point is that, when I operate the infrastructure, I plan when the upgrades happen – I don’t just sit down at my computer one day to be told that I must upgrade right now to continue using a service. Frankly I could do without this week’s Google Apps problems, Windows Live Sync upgrades, etc. and would rather upgrade at my convenience.

Cloud computing is all very well – but the current wave of web services are not ready for the enterprise and I’m even starting to question whether they are ready for small business IT (at least not without retaining some on premise IT service provision). I’m sure that the chargeable services that Amazon, Microsoft, et al are putting together will change things over time but it’s still early days yet and running a business on free, pre-release software (yes, that’s what a beta is – even if it’s an incessant beta) is probably not a smart idea.

Computer clamping

This content is 15 years old. I don't routinely update old blog posts as they are only intended to represent a view at a particular point in time. Please be warned that the information here may be out of date.

There’s just been a bit of entertainment in the office where I’m working today as one of my colleagues accidentally locked his computer to the desk!

Having seen a spare desk with a full size keyboard, mouse, screen and port replicator/docking station, he hooked up his laptop and started working – only to find that the docking station had a security device attached and he couldn’t release the PC without a key.  Furthermore, the keyholder had already gone home and wasn’t answering his mobile phone.

To be honest, I would have fallen for this myself – I didn’t know that the security device worked that way (I would have assumed that I needed to lock the PC in place with a key and not just attach it to a locked docking station) but, for those with a permanent desk and a docking station in a predominantly hot-desking environment, this could become a lucrative sideline in computer clamping – the principle being that if someone uses your desk they can pay to have you come along with a key and unlock their laptop!

Lenovo’s IdeaPad S10e is exactly what I’d hoped for

This content is 15 years old. I don't routinely update old blog posts as they are only intended to represent a view at a particular point in time. Please be warned that the information here may be out of date.

If this blog post is full of typos it’s because I’m conducting an experiment.  I’m trying to see if I can type an entire post on an 85% keyboard without making an unacceptable number of mistakes… and then I’ll tell you if the keyboard on my Lenovo S10e is any good.

Readers may recall that, just over a week ago, I was very excited at the prospect of the imminent arrival opf my new toy – my Christmas present to myself.  Some of you even indicated that you’d like to know how I get on with my new netbook and, I have to say, I’m pretty impressed.

Let’s get one thing straight – a 1.6GHz Intel Atom CPU is not going yto blowe you away with blinding performance – but then consider something else (wehich my friend and colleague Dave Saxon pointed out) – this machine is not designed for content creation and is really intended for content consumption.  Eben so, I reckon it will be the machine that I use for knocking out most of my blog posts for a while.

OK.  Keyboard experiment over… I will correct any typos from now on but, bearing in mind I’m a 16-and-a-half-stone (230lb/105kg) guy who stopped growing before he got to 6 foot tall (i.e. a fat bloke) with podgy fingers, I’m quite happy that I managed to type three paragraphs with only five mistakes (I’d probably have made a couple on a full-sized keyboard).  Like I said, this machine is not designed for content creation but as a half-way-house between a fully mobile (PDA/smartphone) device and a standard notebook PC.  Comparing the keyboard on my Lenovo S10e with some of the other 10” netbooks the 1 is a little too far to the left (so I keep hitting 2) and some others manage a full row of 12 function keys (the Lenovo only has 11 – requiring a Fn+F11 combination to get F12).  Based on looks alone, the Samsung NC10 seems to have a better keyboard – it’s a pity it’s such an ugly machine.

Which nicely leads me into the topics of aesthetics and build quality.  Apple PCs are often held up as examples of design excellence and, when asked about the increasing number of netbooks sold, Apple CEO Steve Jobs is quoted as having said:

“We don’t know how to produce a $500 computer that’s not a piece of junk”

[Steve Jobs, October 2008]

He’s probably right – after all, my Apple MacBook is not as well built as I would like and it cost me around £800 (it’s not quite a $1000 piece of crap – but it’s certainly not as good as it should be).  So, if Apple can’t even get a premium-priced notebook PC right, they have no chance with anything at this end of the market.  On the other hand, Lenovo have managed to build a good looking little PC for around the $500 mark (mine cost £292.25, including 15% sales tax) and before I got my hands on it I said that I hoped Lenovo had continued the build quality that previous IBM ThinkPads displayed – I’m pleased to say that the S10e does not disappoint. The one criticism that I have is that the back of the screen appears to be constructed from a single, thin sheet and it does flex if pushed.

The one thing that lets the S10e down is battery life.  In fairness I haven’t run a full charge cycle on my battery yet (so it’s not fully conditioned) but Windows’ prediction of 4 hours and 13 minutes from a fully-charged battery is wildly optimistic – I reckon I’ll be lucky to get three although I am using the WiFi connection.  If this becomes a problem then a 6-cell battery is available – I haven’t found a UK price yet but at least one site is selling them for less than $80.

Some people have criticised the Lenovo for running hot – mine’s been charging on the desk for the last few hours and admittedly it is a bit warm but nothing compared to my Fujitsu-Siemens Lifebook S7210, which is quite an effective electric fan heater, or my Apple MacBook, which regularly reports internal temperatures of 70-80 degrees.

My S10e was supplied with 1GB of RAM (512MB fixed and another 512MB of DDR2 PC2-5300 RAM).  For the type of work that this machine is designed for, that should be plenty and I’ve not seen any evidence of excessive paging with a few Internet Explorer tabs, a couple of command prompts, a few Explorer windows and Windows Live Writer running.  Running some Office applications might start to push the envelope slightly though. I can’t comment on how well it works with Windows 7 (I’ll write more as soon as I’m freed from NDA restrictions but Paul Thurrott has reported that there will be a public beta next month so hopefully it won’t be too long), in the meantime I’ll just quote CNet’s Brooke Crothers, who wrote that:

“[Microsoft said that] Windows 7 will run on 1GB of memory and 16GB of (solid-state drive) storage. Higher-end Netbooks will have a 160GB hard disk drive, according to Microsoft ‘guidance.’”

And who am I to argue with CNet?

Even if 1GB is not enough to run 7 on this hardware, there are reports that a 2GB SODIMM can be installed to take the total to 2.5GB (of which 2GB will be addressable).  In addition, for those who are running Windows Vista or later, a USB flash drive or SD card can be used with ReadyBoost to improve system responsiveness.

On the expandability front, it’s a bit of a shame that the SD slot leaves the card sticking out (especially as I have a card in there all the time for ReadyBoost) and it’s the same with the PC Express Card slot but these are still valuable capabilities (most netbooks have media cards readers but few offer a PC Express Card slot).

So, onto the million dollar question – is a netbook actually of any practical use or is it too big a compromise?  To answer that, I’ll refer to my previous point – this device is for content consumption not content creation – and for web browsing, streaming a bit of TV from the BBC website, catching up on e-mail, RSS feeds, etc., a netbook is fine.  TechCrunch’s Michael Arrington wrote that there are three reasons why netbooks are not good enough and I cannot agree at all.  Arrington contests that:

“They’re underpowered as PCs, the screen is too small for web surfing, and the keyboard is so small that effective typing is impossible.”

Underpowered?  Well, you’re not going to be doing media compression on one of these but it’s more than adequate for the purposes I described above.

Screen too small for web surfing? 1024×576 is a little shallow but it works on most sites – there’s the odd dialog box that causes an issue (poor UI design) but it’s easy enough to adjust the font size to read a bit more on a web page (Ctrl+-)and, as Liliputing wrote in their response:

“[Arrington] points out that you can only read the first 8 lines of an article on his web site when using a netbook, while you can see the first 22 lines using the iPhone web browser. But you know what? The iPhone doesn’t have a higher resolution display than a netbook, it just has a different web browser. This is a software issue, not a hardware issue”

(I’d also add that TechCrunch takes up a huge amount of space above the fold with ads and navigation…)

As for the keyboard?  I’ve already proved that, whilst it’s not ideal, it is usable – it may not be great for writing huge documents or knocking out code but it’s fine for leaving the odd comment on a website or responding to e-mail.

Whilst slightly larger alternatives such as the Dell Mini 12 offer a much better specification (closer to a notebook than to a netbook), the whole point of this purchase (for me) was a small, lightweight package – so a 10” model was about my limit.  Sure, there are some compromises (like the keyboard and the 576px display depth) but this netbook is everything I wanted it to be.  For less than £300, the Lenovo S10e is fantastic value – better built than the Acer/Asus netbooks, more fully-featured than the Dell Mini 9, and better looking than the Samsung NC10.  I’m pleased to say that I have absolutely no regrets about this particular purchase.

For more information, check out the Lenovo IdeaPad S Series Forums.

Using cows to measure the environmental benefits associated with server virtualisation…

This content is 15 years old. I don't routinely update old blog posts as they are only intended to represent a view at a particular point in time. Please be warned that the information here may be out of date.

Much is made of the environmental benefits of server consolidation using virtualisation technologies so Microsoft and Alinean have put together a website to create a report of the likely environmental benefits of implementing Microsoft Virtualization technologies. I don’t know how accurate it is (the point of using Alinean is that there should be sizable amount of independent market research behind this) but, ultimately, the goal here is to sell products (in this case Windows Server 2008 with Hyper-V).

Regardless of the serious environmental and economical qualities of the Hyper-Green site that Microsoft and Alinean have put together, it’s not a patch (humour wise) on the Virtualisation Cow site that the Australian-based virtualisation consultancy Oriel have created, based on using HP server hardware and VMware Virtual Infrastructure software. The Oriel site may not produce a nice report based on market research from IDC and others but I’d rather express my greenhouse gas savings in terms of cows any day!

(This post is dedicated to Patrick Lownds – joint leader of the Microsoft Virtualization UK User Group – who commented at today’s Microsoft Virtualization Readiness training for partners that he was sure this would appear on my blog… it would be a shame to disappoint him…).

Spotting strange connections on the network

This content is 15 years old. I don't routinely update old blog posts as they are only intended to represent a view at a particular point in time. Please be warned that the information here may be out of date.

A few nights back, I was sorting the pile of books, newspapers and magazines in the bedside reading pile into two more piles: “no time to read so send for recycling”; and “I really must read that”. As I did so, I came across a copy of .net magazine that included an article on using netstat.exe to detect spyware. This is a well-known, but often forgotten tool in the IT administrator’s arsenal:

netstat -a

will give a list of all network and Internet connections, detailing the protocol (e.g. TCP or UDP), local IP address (and port), foreign (remote) IP address (and port) and the state of the connection.

netstat -an

will display addresses in numeric form, so it’s pretty easy to spot those that are listening from another network and a whois lookup will help work out who’s listening in who shouldn’t be (often it will turn out to be something intentional).

netstat -abnv

will take it a step further and show you the applications and components used to initiate the connection – look out on this list and you should be able to spot any strange applications and google them to find out what they are.

Incidentally, netstat is not just for Windows, but the command switches I gave above are. If you are using Windows and you don’t like the command line, then TCPView is a former Sysinternals tool (now owned by Microsoft) that provides a GUI front end for netstat, including whois lookups and process properties. Another useful tool is Nir Sofer’s CurrPorts, which displays the list of all open TCP and UDP ports along with information about the process that opened the port (including highlighting suspicious processes) and the ability to close unwanted TCP connections, kill the process that opened the ports, and save the information to a file.

Improving the performance of Adobe Bridge CS3

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The computer I use for my digital photography workflow is not exactly underpowered – it’s a 2008 Apple MacBook with a 2.2GHz Intel Core2Duo CPU, 4GB RAM and a 320GB hard disk – so I couldn’t understand why Adobe Bridge (CS3) was taking so long to do anything. Sure, I do have around 15,000 digital photos and over 9000 of them are in a single folder but I was seeing more than my fair share of spinning beachballs (the Mac equivalent of the Windows egg timer – which itself has been replaced with a halo from Windows Vista onwards).

I googled around a bit and didn’t find much at first but then I stumbled across an Adobe User to User Forums post from Ramón G Castañeda where he says that:

“The Bridge that come with CS3 now makes extensive use of the GPU on your graphics display card, That’s new.

If your graphics card is underpowered, enabling Use Software Rendering will actually help performance.”

Of course – my MacBook has an integrated graphics chipset and, whilst that’s fine for the photo editing that I do, drawing all those thumbnails in Bridge was going to bog it down a bit. So I turned on software rendering, restarted Bridge and the difference was very noticeable. Sure, CPU utilisation took a hit – but previously the two CPU cores were idle as they waited for the underpowered GPU to catch up.

Enabling software rendering in the preferences for Adobe Bridge CS3

From reading around, other configuration items that can make a difference include:

  • Make sure there is plenty of free disk space available – and that it’s not fragmented.
  • Organise images into subfolders.
  • Increase the size of the camera raw cache (1GB of disk space will hold about 200 raw images – I bumped mine up to 10GB but I’m not sure if that’s made any difference yet).
    Adjusting the cache size for Adobe Camera Raw 4.5
  • Make sure your PC/Mac has plenty of memory (2GB minimum) and a fast disk (RAID 0 is good if you have a decent workstation but is not an option for laptop users like me).